Reel Review - John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
Reeves is a wrecking ball of gun fu action fun in 2017’s John Wick: Chapter 2. It’s one of those rare instances when an action sequel lives up to—and in some ways even surpasses—the hype and high expectations set up by the original.
After stepping out of retirement to seek revenge for his murdered dog and stolen car, hitman John Wick is hoping to bury the hatchet and find some measure of peace. But not everyone from his past is going to let him off that easy.
Whereas the original film took some time before getting into the action—though it never stopped once it started—John Wick: Chapter 2 starts the way any action film worth its salt should start. i.e., with a car chase. From there, writer and architect of the John Wick franchise, Derek Kolstad and director Chad Stahelski deliver more of what made the first film great—merciless and masterful action sequences.
Chapter 2 doesn’t try to introduce anything new but rather doubles down on what worked so well in the first film of the franchise. Stahelski doesn’t abandon the unique action choreography he helped to introduce to North American audiences but just gave us more of it. And we can be thankful for that. There are more headshots, more grappling moves and countermoves and more blood spatter. So much more blood spatter.
Bloody and gory as it is, however, Chapter 2 never forgets to have some fun along the away. There’s one giggle-worthy bullet exchange at a tense moment in the film between John Wick and Common’s character, Cassian, in the New York City metro to provide some reprieve from all of remorseless violence. It’s the kind of deadpan, ironic humour from the original that seems to be part of Stahelski’s and Kolstad’s signature.
The original John Wick offered up more than a few standout and memorable action sequences—the first action sequence in John Wick’s home and the nightclub scene are both particularly rewatchable. Trying to follow that up with a sequel is bold but, as John Wick’s back tattoo says, “Fortune favours the bold.” And Stahelski was very bold.
Stahelski delivered a few more original and jaw-dropping fight sequences in Chapter 2. We have a bit of fun with the opening sequence in the taxi garage before quickly moving on to a feast of a fight in the tunnels underneath Rome. If you liked the action choreography in the first film, you’ll fall head over heels in love with the choreography in the second film.
It isn’t just the action that gets an upgrade in Chapter 2, however. Series architect Kolstad expands and expounds upon his underworld of contract killers and their criminal benefactors. There’s one particularly “delectable” world-building montage once the film arrives in Rome that must have been a joy for editor Evan Schiff to splice together.
Kolstad delivers more of the kind of writing that feels like it would be just as appropriate between the covers of a graphic novel as it is on screen. One can just imagine that flipping through the film’s storyboard would be just as entertaining as kicking back with popcorn and watching the motion picture.
For his part, Reeves also ups the ante. To be sure, there’s a little less room in Chapter 2 for any kind of emotionality for Reeves to work with but he finds his best despite it. Much of the character development in Reeves’ John Wick happens in his movements and body language—i.e., his fighting style when he’s grappling henchmen into submissions before laying them out with a bullet to the head. If Reeves fell into the John Wick role in the first film as a good casting choice, then he makes the role his own in Chapter 2.
This second installment also provides a small reunion for some of The Matrix alumni. Reeves and Stahelski, of course, had their reunion in the first film but Laurence Fishburne makes a mentionable debut in the franchise in Chapter 2’s third act. Fishburne’s off-the-wall overacting hits the bullseye at just the right time to keep this film from taking itself too seriously—and his Bowery King character is, along with Lance Reddick’s Charon/concierge character, one of the most memorable.
Fellow cast member Common also delights but his performance does feel a little heavy when compared to the other performances and absurdist tone of the film. Nevertheless, Stahelski and Kolstad left Common’s character Cassian with an uncertain fate and if there’s anything we’ve learned about the John Wick world it’s that no one is truly dead unless Keanu Reeves shoots them in the head… twice. Hopefully it’s not the last we’ve seen of Cassian or Common in the John Wick world.
As good as Chapter 2 is, however, it isn’t without its faults. The sound mixing, for one, is truly atrocious. One moment, you’re straining to hear the dialogue and the next minute it sounds like John Wick is pulling the trigger right next to your ear. It would have rendered a lesser film nearly unwatchable in any setting apart from a movie theatre—unless you’re OK with doing your own sound mixing with the volume buttons on your TV’s remote control every five minutes.
Regardless, Chapter 2 is a killer of a sequel that pays respect to its predecessor, stands well enough on its own and paves the road ahead for its successor.